Best Practice is Test Practice

Let me set the scene: You’ve just attended a conference and your head is buzzing with new ideas. But there’s one in particular that you have to try! You know your organization’s donors will love it and really respond to it. So you go to your decision-maker and put the idea in front of her. She immediately shuts it down. “Our donors won’t respond to that!”, she says. You, deflated, go back to doing the same old, same old.

Here’s another scene: You just got an email from your favourite charity (but not the one you work at). It has a lot of copy, yet you’re captivated the whole time you read it. You get to the end and can’t help but make a gift. But there was so much copy! That’s not best practice! And yet… you gave. So you start thinking about the charity where you work. You only write short copy emails there; it’s “best practice”, after all. You consider making your next email a bit longer, but the digital experts in your office might say no. And what if it sacrifices revenue?

If you’re like most fundraisers, one or both of these situations is familiar to you. Revenue is precious, and if it’s coming in, then there’s not a revenue problem. If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. If there’s nothing to fix, why try something new?! New ideas have no place in your charity.

But there is a problem! Status quo is a problem. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point things will plateau if they haven’t already.

And chances are, the most senior people at your charity don’t want to see revenue go flat. They want to see it go up.

But how?

We use a quote from Albert Einstein a lot in our office to shake us out of status quo:

So how do you stop being insane? How do you challenge your known best practice without sacrificing (too much) revenue?

You test.

In my opinion, we don’t do nearly enough testing in fundraising. We’re so risk-averse – and understandably so. We don’t have money to just play around with, and for most charities it would be irresponsible to “play” with our money anyway.

But there’s so much to learn by trying new things!

Testing is the way. Testing is the way to convince your organization’s decision-maker to try something new. You go status quo with one group of donors – maybe send them the year-end package you always have. And then with another group of donors – send them the new package! Or the long-copy email you’ve been wanting to try!

6 Tips for Testing:

  1. Test ONE thing. To have a true test, you have to be able to identify the one thing that made one “package” more successful than the other.
  2. You don’t have to do a 50/50 test, you can do 75/25 or whatever you want! But – for the test to be conclusive, you want to have a minimum of 100 responses.
  3. Don’t just test for testing’s sake. If the element that you’re testing “wins”, the assumption is that you’ll roll out that element in future efforts, so it needs to have value.
  4. Digital testing is the same as testing through mail. You’re still testing one thing.
  5. You can test more than just creative/copy elements. You can also test data elements. What would happen if you mailed 50% of your inactive donors a totally different letter than other donors? Would they perform better? Or what if you tested your usual ask grid ($50 $100 $250) against something a bit more aggressive? Would that result in a higher average gift?
  6. Sometimes – even without testing it – it’s time for your longstanding control package to go. (Note: Your “control” is the package that keeps on winning against test packages.) Just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it should still go out in the mail. Sometimes it’s time for something new, with or without testing.

(Shout-outs to my awesome colleagues Laura & Sara for sharing their best testing tips!)

Good luck, and happy testing!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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What stories have we been telling our mid-level donors?

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In a few hours, I’m jumping on a plane to Chicago to speak at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and I couldn’t be more excited!

This conference has had such a positive buzz about it since it started 3 years ago, and I can’t wait to be part of it.

What will I be talking about? Surprise, surprise: mid-level donors. You know they’re my favourite kind of donor, and I can’t wait to share some thoughts on them with the crowd.

My presentation is called “Telling mid-level donors the stories they want to hear”. I don’t want to give away all my secrets, but I will say this: if I’m saying that we need to tell mid-level donors the stories they want to hear, am I suggesting that we haven’t been?

The answer is yes.

So what stories have we been telling our mid-level donors that haven’t been working?

#1 – The brand story

I spoke about this in my post on “The Field of Dreams Myth”, as I call it. A lot of organizations have the instinct to brand their mid-level giving program – give it a name, a logo, and letterhead. This tactic is not off-base, but it’s not enough. (And all too often, it’s based on internal organizational needs vs. the needs of the donor.)

#2 – The variable paragraph story

Variable paragraphs are best practice in direct mail (and email, to a degree) and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. But, if we expect to inspire mid-level donors to step it up just because we call them “generous” in a variable paragraph, then we’re going to be sorely disappointed. We need to do more.

#3 – The closed envelope story

One of the most commonly used tactics is to send mid-level donors exactly what your regular donors get, but with a distinction – rather than a #10 envelope with your usual postage indicia, mid-level donors get their letter in a closed envelope with a real, live stamp on the front! Don’t get me wrong – it’s a classy touch, makes the package stand out in a pile of bills… but is this going to inspire donors to give at a new level? No.

#4 – An insert story (if they’re lucky)

Finally, the most we might do for mid-level donors to try to distinguish their experience from everyone else is to insert something extra into their package – maybe it’s a lift note from someone meaningful to them/the package, maybe it’s a small insert that expands on the funding priorities… And this comes from a great insight about mid-level donors wanting more from the organizations they support. More content! More behind-the-scenes info! More! An insert will take you part of the way, but on its own will it do enough? No.

The stories aren’t working. 

I promise you I’ll talk to you about what stories will work in a few weeks.

Until then – what are you seeing that doesn’t work? What does?

Let me know in the comments!

~~

Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Are you killing your team’s creativity?

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So, things aren’t going so well. You’ve recognised that there’s potentially something that could be refined – the excuse of “but we’ve always done it that way” has grown tired and you want to take action.

You feel it’s time to get the team together and pull some ideas into the melting pot. Your team buzzes with excitement; you all sit down in a room with some cookies and have an amazing day of productivity and unhindered creativity.

You’ve taken your findings away and your team patiently waits for the higher powers that be to give them instruction on which avenue will be taken. Then what happens next
completely devastates them;

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing happens. A day goes by, a week – one even comes up to you and enquires if a decision is made and the reply was something along the lines of “We had our creative time last week, today I just need you to focus on your task”. Your team then go back to doing the inefficient task without ever knowing if their opinion was even worth voicing.

Fundraising takes creativity. It takes people with passion, with ability to think out of the box and look at things from different or conflicting points of view to succeed. These are things that should be nourished with a company culture that helps brings those ideas forward. If your team feels like nothing will come of their ideas, then they’ll stop producing them, and maybe even leave the organisation.

However, don’t panic – there are a few things you can do to stop this from happening.

  • Positivity. This is an important time for your organisation. What is said in that room could be the pivotal moment where things change for the better. Some of the ideas shared may not be the best or what you were hoping – but it’s better to inspire and encourage than stop the ideas flowing.
  • Communication. Make sure your team feels they are in the loop. There have been plenty of studies that suggest the more a worker feels in control of what they do the more productive they are. Keeping them regularly updated with how their ideas are developing, whether they are developing or not, will give them the confidence that their ideas are valued. It’s also important to communicate with clarity – no point updating your team if you’re going to use terminology they might not work with usually.
  • Leadership. One of the most pillars of being a good manager is having the confidence of your team and they need to know you’ve got their back. Don’t isolate your work from them, if they know what you’re doing each day, they’ll be more understanding if you have to put their ideas on a back burner. When things go right, celebrate the successes as a team and make sure credit is given where it is due.

As someone who line manages a team it’s important to remember the difference between a boss and a leader. A boss will dictate, think of themselves as above them and ultimately push away their team. A leader gets stuck in, will be a no-ego doer that helps the team improve and accomplish things together – ultimately promoting happiness, productivity and a culture of self-improvement.

Be a leader not a boss. Inspire.

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Written by Alexander Morgan

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Alexander is the CEO of  and is passionate about Donor Engagement.

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